The Vice Chancellor of the Kebbi State University of Science and Technology, Aliero, Professor Bashar Ladan Aliero is the son of an Arabic teacher in Aliero town. He started his education under the tutelage of his father before he embraced Western education and rose through the ranks to become Professor of Botany at the Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto. In this interview with Saturday Sun, the erudite scholar suggested the need for Nigeria to have Bank of Education to cater for education of the less privileged in the society, among other issues, including how to end the problem of almajiri in the North.
As a VC, how has been your journey in the academics to this point?
I started working with the University of Sokoto, Sokoto State now known as Usman Dan Fodio University. I started there as an Assistant Lecturer in 1983 and rose to the rank of Professor in 2004. I have been with the university all along. In 2017, I was appointed as the Vice- Chancellor of this university, Kebbi State University of Science and Technology, Aliero. Earlier in my life, I had my primary education in Aliero and my secondary school in Birnin Kebbi Secondary School now known as Nagari Secondary School, Birnin Kebbi. I did my BSc degree in Usman Dan Fodio University and my MSc degree there too. I did my PhD in Stratford University, United Kingdom in 1994.
What would you consider as your major achievement since you became the Vice-Chancellor of this university?
I came here in September 2017, by April, May, 2018 ,we have accreditation of our programmes by the National University Commission( NUC). We presented 14 programmes for accreditation, out of these, 12 got full accreditation. This is a huge success for us at the University. Even in the developed universities, they can’t record such percentage. This is a great encouragement for us to do more despite that we have just started.
When I came here, we have four faculties, now we are having six faculties including faculties of Physics, Science, Biology, Education, Engineering, and one other. This year, we are planning to include Environmental Courses like Town Planning, Colleges of Health Science where courses like Medicine, Pharmacy would be studied. Already, the building for this faculty is completed and all the equipment has been installed. Very soon, we shall start the programmes.
How would you assess the Nigerian educational system?
Nigeria educational system has gone through a lot of changes at different phases. For example, in the 1960s, when we were in primary school, the number of schools was not many and they received a lot of support from government especially the public schools. Then, we had few public schools and they were well funded, teachers were well taken care of and they were very committed. Teachers at that time, sacrificed a lot, put in all their best to nurture pupils to have sound education. But with the introduction of SAP (Structure Adjustment Programme) in 1987, things changed drastically because of the fall of the nation’s currency. The naira, before was stronger than the US dollar. Before we knew it, naira became weaker and weaker to the point that N500 was equivalent to a dollar.
So, this devaluation affected everything in our lives in Nigeria including our education. Also, in the past, our students, pupils enjoyed free feeding and I think from 1984 and beyond, this programme was stopped. The SAP programme also affected the standard of our education and many foreign experts left to their countries . Not only that, some of our best products also fled the country in search of greener pastures, making us to suffer brain drain. All these contributed to the fall of education standard in our country.
But I think the situation is improving now since the advent of democracy in 1999 in Nigeria. We are having many federal, states and private universities and other tertiary institutions in the country. Our people are getting more opportunities, access to education and I think the standard is coming up gradually. Though, it will take more time before we achieve this. Also, we are witnessing increment in the number of students seeking admissions through JAMB. The figure is over one million now and that shows our education standard is improving.
What is your view on the high cost of education in Nigeria?
What I will advocate for here for our people, is to have more access to education . Our governments need to create more opportunities to grants and loans. You see, you cannot compromise quality. So, if you want to maintain quality, the cost must be there because those things that make quality education to be sustained, we pay dearly for them. I think, governments can open more grants, more access to loans. For example, just like we are having Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry, we must have Bank of Education too. This is very important especially in our country with over 200 million population. It is high time we think about this and have Bank of Education. Our political system is not like that of Russia, or China, it is democratic, competitive economy. We have to allow this to grow with us.
What would you say is the reason for increase in suicide among the youths?
There are a number of factors responsible for this. First, I think, it has to do with the way a child is brought up. In the past, a child’s attachment to his parents is overwhelming. The case is different today. In the olden days, the number of children was not much and the parents paid adequate attention, love and affections to their children. In those days, there were limitations on the influence of technology on our children. But today, technology has taken over parenting roles in our society. We are having various phones of different devices, exposing our youths to many things. All sorts of films, messages, and information were being transferred to our youths and they learnt some immorality through these channels especially how to commit suicide.
Again, we are not patient anymore compared to the past. All these advanced technologies, many of our people could not comprehend them and these are affecting our mode of lives. Things are moving faster than we can imagine. But, I think the rate of suicide in the society is reducing these days.
What lessons have you learnt about life?
There are many things I have learnt about life. First, teaching is universal by religion. For example in Islam, there is a saying of Prophet Muhammed (SAW) that, ‘do unto others what you want others to do to you’, So, once you stick to this principle, the challenges will be minimal and this will help you to excel in any environment. Whatever you extend to people, it is what they too will extend to you. If you try as much as possible to be good to people, they too will try to reciprocate.
Tell us about your growing up, who influenced you more, your dad or mum?
The two of them played vital roles, significant in my upbringing. At earlier age, I was closer to my mother who contributed to my initial upbringing. In my case, my father had Arabic school where many people and other children came to learn. So, I grew up in this environment where I had the privilege to start my education and moved on to have Western education.
How do you unwind?
I enjoy farming. I do a lot of farming exercise. Sometimes, I walk around, driving because I can drive. All these exercises make me relax after routine office activities.
What kind of farming are you into? Or, are you also into onion farming which Aleiro town is known for?
I am more into rice farming than onions farming.
What is your view on border closure. Does it have any positive impact on rice farmers?
Of course, the prices of rice have gone up and rice farmers are happy about it. Now, rice farmers are making profits from their harvest..
Do you have the problem of cultism like you have in other universities in the southern part of the country?
Here, our culture does not allow cultism. Right from the onset, our youths were not aware of cultism , they only read it on pages of newspapers and watching it on TV channels.
What were your high and low moments in life?
In my career, I have been very lucky. When I was doing my NYSC in Ogun State, very close to Ijebu Ode, I received a telegraph from the university I graduated from that I should come over to take an appointment. Immediately I finished my NYSC, the job was there waiting for me. It is not like now when graduates after their NYSC, are roaming about seeking employment. I can say, I never experienced what they call labour market. Again, I can’t recall anytime I spent a day in the hospital. All these years, I don’t go to hospital. Maybe, it’s due to my feeding, exercise and stress management.
What criteria can you recall your alma mater used in employing you at Usman Dan Fodio as Assistant Lecturer?
That time, graduates were not many. Our lecturers were always watching us and in our class, we were just six in number from my area. So, I think, they had the criteria on which they used to invite whoever they wanted and who not. You know, they just invited me, maybe they might have told my referee the criteria they used.
What kind of dress do you prefer, suits or babariga, and why?
Babariga is part of our culture here. And if you look at our environment, it is hot and wearing suit may not be appropriate. Because it will make you feel the heat more. But, when I was studying abroad, I put on suit, cardigan and other dresses. But when I came back here, I have to turn to wearing of traditional cloths.
How can the problem of Almajiri be solved in the north?
I think it is about the question of reorientation. Everything rests on the parents’ responsibilities. If they gave birth to children, they must be ready to take the responsibilities to enroll them in both Arabic and Western education schools . Parents must be held responsible for the upbringing of their children even in the area of financing them. Some parents especially those in the rural areas believe that once they send these children away from homes, they would not be sharing from the family’s food, shelters and income. Sending their children away, to them, it is kind of relief. They are avoiding their responsibilities. I think, there should be law in our states that will force parents to take responsibilities for their children.
Do you believe the North is still educationally disadvantaged as against South even with universities springing up all over the place?
I think the gap is being narrowed now. But if you look in term of statistics on proportion of educated and non-educated, I think the North has a lot to do. But now, the gap is being narrowed than what it used to be in the past.
Where do you see your institution in another five years?
If these courses I mentioned earlier start fully and our students are well taught, and graduate, our school would come of age and we can say we have arrived. From the reports and feedback we are getting from employers of our graduates, our students are doing very well, no complaint at all. That feedback is encouraging.